Identify, use best practices to take control of maintenance

Best practice rules may vary from industry to industry, even from company to company, but it's important to describe the possible benefits, and to consider ways in which they can be implemented.

By Plant Engineering Staff December 1, 2008

We all want to get it right. For most of us, it’s one of the first things we can remember, that applause from an adoring mother as we finally manage to pile three bricks on top of each other.

The challenges get bigger as we get older — but then, so do the rewards. Get it right in running a business, and the prize is profitability, growth and a successful company. By that time, though, we’ve learned a bit about problem-solving, and instead of simply trying and trying again until the bricks stay in place, we know it’s a good idea to watch and learn from the way other people have tackled similar challenges.

That, put simply, is the theory of “best practice.” We decide the goals — what we want to achieve, and the business strategy we’re going to adopt to get there — but if someone else has trodden a similar path before us, it would be foolhardy not to profit from their experience.

So why doesn’t everyone do that?

That proposition is so obvious that it almost doesn’t need saying — except that, since companies often don’t follow that rule, it clearly does. To take just one example from the manufacturing sector, one recent survey suggests that around half the maintenance work that is done is unnecessary. That’s an awful lot of wasted time and money.

So why don’t companies follow the best practice rule in managing the assets on which they rely? Industry observers say there are three main reasons — they aren’t aware of what the current best practices are; if they were, they wouldn’t know how to put them into effect; and even if they knew how to do that, they wouldn’t have the motivation anyway.

Best practice rules may vary from industry to industry, even from company to company, but it’s important to describe the possible benefits, and to consider ways in which they can be implemented.

Taking control

Automation is a tool, an enabler. Nothing less; but certainly nothing more.

It isn’t enough simply to install an EAM system and let it do the work. One of the key messages of this book has been the potential of automation to drive efficiency and profitability throughout the organization, but it’s also important to remember that it is the manager who remains in charge. He is the man using the tool, and it’s his responsibility to use it skillfully.

An automated asset management system can identify areas where easily achievable savings can be made and procedures improved quickly — in the management of inventories, for instance, where correct and consistent item descriptions can rapidly reduce duplication and make individual items easy to track across the organization.

It can establish priorities — by tracking how and when assets fail, it can flag up persistent problems and analyze them. Then the system can automatically start the actions that will control them and prevent them from recurring. Similarly, it can help to develop a green business strategy, by scheduling inspections for individual assets where failure might result in environmental damage, or by establishing a program of preventive maintenance to concentrate on reducing the environmental impact of the operation.

Or it can track the progress of a business plan, and measure actual performance against the targets set out in the plan.

The cost implications of all these examples are fairly obvious. But the onus is still on the organization’s management to take advantage of the information that they are provided with, and to create a business environment where the implications of that information are reflected in behavior throughout the company, right down to the mechanic on the production floor.

And before the managers can do either of those things, they have to decide exactly what it is they want the automated management system to measure.

A business tool

So that’s the first example of best practice. The organization has to decide what aspects of its performance are most important — what are its key performance indicators — and how they are to be measured. They may be set against similar data from other companies, or they may be compared with the company’s own past performance or its business plan.

The automation solution may be modified to reflect the company’s specific key performance indicators — the benchmarks against which progress will be measured. It’s never too late to implement them, but the sooner that job is done, the better return the company will see on its investment.

It’s about taking control: from the very beginning, the automated asset management system is being used as a business tool rather than as some sort of sophisticated magic talisman.

From then on, the success of the implementation of the system depends on the organization and culture of the company — on how automation is supported, and on how much effort and commitment is invested in the best practice strategy.

For instance, manufacturing companies are traditionally not very good at tracking detailed information about their assets. The information given on the nameplate of the item, for example — its age, its power consumption, details of its manufacture — can all be used by an automated system to trace individual pieces of equipment, identify similar items and rationalize their deployment anywhere in the organization.

That’s another example of best practice — and once again, it’s the company managers who are in control.

Once the company’s performance has been measured, then it’s possible to draw up a strategy to close the gap between the present performance and the business plan; the whole purpose of gathering the data is to use it in making management decisions.

To help make results visible, every company should have a member of staff who can write good report specifications in order to turn information into policy and progress — one more example of best practice.

The motivation

The other reason that we mentioned for not putting best practice into effect — the motivation — has, quite simply, been the subject of the whole of this book.

Best practice is about getting the best out of an automated asset management solution — which means the best cost savings, the best improvements in productivity, the best efficiency, the best profitability.

This is the next generation of IT that industry has been waiting for, offering profitability in the present, and the potential for growth in the future. That, surely, should provide all the motivation needed to ride this revolution.

Excerpt from the book, “The Business Impact of Enterprise Asset Management,” by IBM Software Group, IBM Corp. For a copy of the book, go to .

ABB wins electrical, automation system installation jobs

ABB recently won several contracts collectively worth more than $150 million to supply main electrical systems for drilling rigs and drill-ships built in Asia. The orders were booked in third-quarter 2008. Among the new orders are three deepwater drilling rigs now under construction at the Jurong Shipyard in Singapore, two drill-ships — Stena DrillMax Ice and the Pride #4 drill-ship — to be built at Samsung Heavy Industries, and another drill-ship for Metrostar to be built at Hyundai Heavy Industries in Korea.

ABB will supply the complete electrical system for the rigs, including generators, medium and low voltage power distribution, thruster drive systems, drilling drive systems and related engineering and services.

Other projects include:

Hydroelectric — AmerenUE Taum Sauk Pump Storage Hydro plant in Missouri, granted ABB an $11.5 million to provide power plant equipment. The delivery will include instrumentation, medium- and low-voltage MCCs and switchgear, protection system, ac/dc auxiliaries, with System 800xA Extended Automation providing the integration foundation for these systems. System 800xA will also control the processes in the plant, including the governor. This turnkey project includes all associated engineering, installation supervision, commissioning and training.

Power generation — Black Hills Corp., a diversified energy company, has selected ABB to provide power generation products, services and electrical design expertise for Wygen III, Black Hills’ new power generation station near Gillette, WY. Automation and electrical systems will be integrated on the common System 800xA platform for maximum operational advantages as well as reduced overall lifecycle costs.

Chilean cement manufacturer — Polpaico will meet challenging targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions with help from an ABB emissions monitoring solution that uses precise Fourier transform infrared analyzer technology integrated with Extended Automation System 800xA.

Wastewater — Designed and engineered by Australian company AnaeCo, the first installation of a patented technology known as DiCOM is currently under construction at a municipal waste transfer station in Shenton Park, a suburb of Perth, Australia’s fourth largest city. In another application, ABB supplied a SCADA system based on System 800xA to the TVIS district heating utility in Denmark at the Skærbæk combined cycle power plant.

Steel — VSB (Vallourec & Sumitomo Tubos do Brasil) produces seamless oil country tubular goods/products. ABB will supply automation systems, equipment and services for a new seamless steel tube and pipe production plant. The new plant will be built at Jeceaba in the state of Minas Gerais in southeastern Brazil, and is scheduled to start production in 2010. It is expected to have an annual capacity of 600,000 tons per year of seamless steel pipes.

Safety — At Pemex’s Burgos Basin in Reynosa, Tamaulipas, Mexico, an oil and gas/refining facility, ABB provided System 800xA Extended Automation with emergency safety as well as fire and gas systems; the control systems for cryogenics plants; the distribution and storage terminal; fluid treatment; and the security systems for process and fire. ABB provided the electric panels for substations, transformers and electrical distribution.

—Contributed by Mark T. Hoske, editor in chief, Control Engineering magazine